Anger as bankers move electric trains to the West Midlands
Almost a year after the DfT’s imposition of an evening peak for Greater Manchester’s rail users comes another body blow. Porterbrook Leasing, who owns most of Britain’s trains has refused to offer 17 Class 323 electric trains to Northern Rail’s successors in 2016.
Instead, the rolling stock leasing company (owned by Alberta Investment Management Corporation, Allianz Capital Partners, EDF Invest and Hastings Fund Management) has decided to move them to the West Midlands. At present, the Centro West Midlands boundary sees a number of local services utilising Class 323, and the move allows for greater standardisation. The reason, to reduce maintenance costs.
Greater Manchester’s Class 323s entered service in 1996 wearing GMPTE’s two tone grey livery with a red and white band below the windows. They displaced slam door electrics on the Manchester Piccadilly to Macclesfield and Stoke-on-Trent, and Crewe services. In 1997, they replaced the slam door Class 305 units on the Hadfield line. November that year saw the line’s first ever brand new trains since the arrival of the Class 506s. Platforms at Flowery Field station were extended to allow for the longer trains.
The Class 323s were the last new trains to be ordered by Regional Railways North West. They have been the mainstay of the all-stations Crewe service via Manchester Airport since arriving at Longsight depot.
Extra capacity though slightly older trains?
So far no definite reference is made of their replacements. It is likely that a further 20 Class 319 trains could compensate. If that was the case, the original aims of the extended electrification work will be diluted.
The original aim of the Northern Hub was to extend the 25kV overhead line equipment over other parts of Greater Manchester. It was hoped the electric trains could displace Sprinters and Pacers from the Bolton and Wigan lines. Ultimately it could mean electric trains from Wigan to Huddersfield.
Instead, the 20 Class 319s, slightly older than the 323s they could replace, may be used on affected services from Piccadilly to Glossop, Macclesfield, Stoke-on-Trent and Crewe. If so, could the Crewe service be extended to Liverpool Lime Street leaving two spare track paths (though this will be seen as a service cut)? Could the Glossop trains be extended to Old Trafford on matchdays?
This would only leave three spare Class 319s, excluding the present two seen on the Liverpool Lime Street service from Manchester Airport. Could the spares find a use on peak hour journeys from Stalybridge to Blackpool North via Manchester Victoria or Manchester Piccadily and Bolton?
Traction Top Trumps: The Class 319s and the Class 323s
Class 323 details in brackets, Class 319 figures refer to 319/3 subclass:
- Length: 65′ 1″ – 65′ 4″ (front and rear, 76′ 8″; centre carriage, 76′, 11″)
- Carriages: 4 cars (3 cars);
- Seats: 303 (284);
- Standing capacity: 109 (unknown);
- Maximum Speed: 100 mph (90 mph);
- Built: 1990, as Class 319/1 (1992 – 95);
- Built by: BREL York (Hunslet TPL).
When you compare the above figures, there is going to be little improvement on the Class 323’s capacity. An extra nineteen seats on the 319/1s. The trains may be slightly faster but probably wouldn’t be used to their full potential. That in terms of offering a real improvement on its predecessors. Compared with the Class 323s today, little improvement. Yet, if the wires were energised between Huddersfield and Manchester Victoria, a vast improvement on the Class 142 Pacer units.
With news of Transpennine Express’ Class 170s transferring to Oxfordshire still rankling, the displacement of the Class 323s could be a politically sensitive one. On the Glossop to Manchester Piccadilly run, possibly more delays as the platforms at some stations are too short for the 4 car units. The near self-contained nature of the line south of Hyde Junction offers scope for Metrolink conversion, though this could stymie any attempts to reopen the Woodhead line.
The stopping services from Piccadilly to Macclesfield and Crewe also passes three solid Conservative party seats. In Macclesfield, that of David Rutley’s; Fiona Bruce’s seat in Congleton; and (formerly Gwyneth Dunwoody’s seat), Edward Timpson’s Crewe and Nantwich constituency. With the perception of higher fares and older trains, could the M6 be busier?
Yet, it is the party whose rail privatisation model espouses this internal market. One where most of our rolling stock is controlled by bankers. Wouldn’t it make more sense if the franchisees owned the rolling stock outright, automatically passing the trains on to their successors? Couldn’t the Integrated Transport Authorities be given more money to maintain them (which explains why West Yorkshire has better trains as the Class 333s are funded by Metro West Yorkshire PTE)?
As a consequence, the Class 319s could replace the 323s. The Pacers, alas, could be with us for a bit longer (I have almost thought of nipping to Betfred and putting a £1 on them running till 2035). Could the dreaded D78 conversions be an answer for capacity improvements?
As proven by today’s revelations (which at first I thought was the work of a professional troll), it shows that the internal market for rolling stock isn’t fit for purpose. Though FirstGroup and Stagecoach may lease their buses, why isn’t their investment bankers forcing Queens Road garage to send its Volvo B9s to Bristol?
The Class 319s may offer modest capacity improvements and a smoother ride, but that is not the point. Sure there may be handsome and that Northern Rail’s Northern Electrics livery looks the part. Yes, the seats may be comfier but again, this is not the point.
Their displacement sends out one signal: that the Hardworking People® of Northern England aren’t worthy of brand new trains. Today’s Pacer units are entering their thirties which warrants Heritage DMU Status (bestowed on Class 101s which were 30 years old in 1986 and regarded as… Heritage DMUs). Ditto that of the Sprinters.
To all intents, the Northern Powerhouse® was always going to be a vote catching gimmick. Perhaps they might send us some new trains. On one condition that Cuadrilla would have first dibs on the Peak National Park, or that almost every single ticket office in Greater Manchester would have to close.
S.V., 24 August 2015.